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I Know Why the Caged Bear Sings

February 9, 2010

I am blessed to be surrounded by friends who inspire me. The other day one such friend was lamenting that he felt guilty because he had worked so hard all of his life and that currently he was achieving just as much financial success but at the same time thoroughly enjoying his life.

I was struck by a line in one of my new favorite books “The Book of Martial Power” by Steven Pearlman. In talking about the principles underlying all martial arts, Pearlman states as part of the ultimate standard of any martial art is that “Victory must be effortless.”

What if life was meant to be effortless?

Not the effortlessness in the unskilled sort of beach bum or common charlatan type of effortless. That is more of an example of individuals often working harder not to work and evolve than they would if they had applied themselves to an honest living. But rather, what if the ultimate goal of life was mastery, like mastering a martial art. At first you struggle and work hard and get bogged down in details. You believe that all of that is necessary to learn to survive. But if you have seen a master of anything at work, it is like magic requiring no effort. (To look upon a prima ballerina is to think that such a person is simply born to effortlessly move that way, that not even her body remembers the years it took to break her feet into that capability.)

What if the point is to relax and act from a state of inspiration?

I have been practicing jiu-jitsu for about 5 years. Recently my teacher told me to soften my gaze when I was sparring. He told me to relax and stop focusing on the details. Tension, unnecessary tension, is the mark of a novice who lacks confidence in their techniques and confidence that they can win. And it is a pure waste of energy that actually hinders victory. My focus needed to be purely on keeping my own center (relaxing my vision to keep peripheral vision, relaxing my breathing as much as possible, maintaining control over my own body, etc.) and on seeing in my own mind how the dance would go. That’s it. You actually get to the point that your opponent is an illusion, and disappears from your mind all together.

So after a few years of struggling against opponents who outweighed me by 40 to 100 or more lbs., struggling to get every detail of a move down, of learning the attack, the counter, and the counter of the counter, and now after all of that left-brain overanalysis my teacher was asking me to completely let that go and switch into right-brain inspired action. He said,”Have you ever seen a child playing? When they are really caught up in their story a bomb could go off behind them and it wouldn’t distract them. That is the kind of focus you need to develop.” Now my teacher never read Pearlman’s book. He is not much of a reader. But a life of mastering his own body had taught him that transition.

To go from novice to mastery requires that you eventually let go of any belief in the struggle. It is a huge wall you meet with and you don’t ever expect it. How can I let go of all that I have come to be, have worked so hard to be, and go in the opposite direction?

We’ve all heard the story of the bear who spends its whole life in a cage and when it is released still limits its life to the size of the cage. We evolve our identity, our sense of self in that transitory state of struggle. We say to ourselves, “I am the bear who struggles against the cage and if the cage isn’t there and I am free, then who a I?”

We want happiness and joy and peace, but we build our lives around stress and struggle and drama.

The struggle was never the goal. It was a step; the perceived necessity. It never was, nor is, who we are.

So why the guilt?

For one thing, the majority of people around you won’t understand you (but if you are like me you are used to this.)

I think the heart of it is that it’s just a really good lie you were told once a long time ago; that life is hard. And it is really hard for most people most of the time. When you finally get to the other side and see it doesn’t have to be that way maybe there is a bit of survivor’s guilt.

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One comment

  1. Arghhhh, I didn’t see that this post was awaiting approval. How beautiful!



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